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Justin says, “Thank You” to Emery County Search and Rescue



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Les Thompson, Ken Eley, Greg Jewkes, Justin Harris, Sgt. Les Wilberg, Sheriff Lamar Guymon, McLayne Potter, Sarah Mullaly and Lamont Gordon.

Jeremy and Justin Harris will never forget the events that took place in Emery County on Nov. 21-23, 2003. The brothers were hiking in the Baptist Draw area of Goblin Valley. Justin fell from an 80 foot repel and broke his leg at approximately 5 p.m. on Fri. Nov. 21. Jeremy left Justin with food and water and began the long hike out of Chute Canyon; he inadvertently took a wrong turn and ended up hiking for 24 hours straight. He arrived at his car where he used his cell phone to call for help.
The Emery County Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue immediately responded to the scene. Justin was reached by rescuers on Sunday evening at approximately 7 p.m. Justin was finally removed from the scene at sunrise on Monday, when he was lifeflighted to Salt Lake.
These traumatic events have left a great and lasting impact on the Harris family, they are filled with feelings of gratitude for those who made Justin’s rescue possible. Men and women who leave homes and family to venture out into the unknown to save the life of another. These Emery County Search and Rescue members were recently honored with the Statewide EMS Service award, for their heroic efforts in saving Justin Harris. This award is given annually for outstanding service. They were also honored by the Carbon/Emery EMS council and Castleview Hospital for the outstanding rescue of the year.
The Harris family in appreciation for the efforts of the search and rescue team, recently held a barbeque for the rescue team and their families at the Castle Dale park. The Harris family lives in Parowan.
Justin said his family recently returned from Los Angeles where he did an interview for Lifetime for a television show where they do reenactments of various situations and what you should do in these situations. Leeza Gibbons from the show did the interview. Justin said they took really good care of them in California and the program should air in about a month.
Justin recalled the events surrounding his rescue, he described Layne Potter as awesome; “He was just like the energizer bunny, he knew exactly what to do. He came down that wall like Spiderman. He also gave me his coat. These guys knew exactly what they were doing. When I first heard their voices, I was overcome with emotion. I had been calling out throughout the day, and there were times when I was uncertain whether I would get out. I never got discouraged and I tried to think positive thoughts. I would repeat the names of my family and all their birthdays to try and stay coherent.”
Justin’s wife Tricia said when she first got the call that said Justin had broken his leg, she didn’t grasp the magnitude of the situation and the remote location of where he had broken his leg and the severity of the injury. But upon learning how many hours he had been in the canyon and the temperatures which hovered around zero, “It became a nightmare,” said Tricia. “We just kept calling the sheriff’s office to see if they had any news. Finally when the sheriff’s office reported they had made voice contact with Justin, we were so relieved and we knew that everything would be alright. Just knowing he was alive, made all the difference,” said Tricia.
Justin said, “I am doing alright now, the doctor’s amputated my leg between the knee and ankle. I am about where I hoped I would be, it’s been seven months since the amputation. I had some goals set for myself. I wanted to continue to coach my son’s football team and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do that. But, we are starting practices and I am going to be there. At first, I was in a wheelchair and then I got my first leg. I have had to make some adjustments in my life, but it could be worse. If it wasn’t for my brother and the search and rescue workers I might not be here.
“Tricia and I have four children and another one on the way. We have Skyler, 14, McKensee, 9, Taylor, 8, and Madison, 5. I have worked for my wife’s family construction business for the last 10 years and luckily I had an understanding boss, my father-in-law, as I went through the recuperation process these past few months. I am back to work part-time for now.
“I am just getting used to walking again. I have trouble with uneven surfaces and sometimes I falter. I can’t feel up and down, it’s like having an ankle that’s fused and won’t bend. For now, I am happy just walking across the lawn. Hopefully in the future with a better foot and components, I will be able to go up from there. I have gradually weaned myself from the pain medications and the pain is not too bad. I am looking to join a support group for amputees,” said Justin.
The Harris family wanted to hear from each of those present and their involvement in the rescue. Les Thompson is the commander of the search and rescue and he started the ball rolling with the rescue when he received the call from the sheriff’s office.
Sgt. Les Wilberg is the liaison between the sheriff’s office and the search and rescue. The night the call came in Sgt. Wilberg just happened to be in dispatch. Sgt. Wilberg remembers that they built fires when they left an area, to signify that the area have been searched. He remembers looking out and seeing 20-30 fires. Justin remembers how the smoke from those fires smelled good to him as he lay there waiting to be found.
Sgt. Wilberg said it was really cold as they searched that night and how different the country looked as it became daylight. “It was really a rough area,” said Sgt. Wilberg.
Sgt. Wilberg said that EMT Diane Chandler played a key role in the rescue. She was in the bottom of the canyon with Justin and diagnosed the severity of his leg injury, so that LifeFlight stayed on the scene to transport Justin. Justin was brought up the canyon wall in a Stokes basket. Ken Eley, rescuer, said he was involved with setting up the ropes and helping to pull Justin up. He said he hoped it scared Justin bad enough that he wouldn’t do that again.
Justin’s family talked about the long night while waiting for word on Justin and his condition. His mother and stepfather, drove down to Price to be nearer to Justin and recalled temperatures over Soldiers Summit that night were below zero.
Rescuer Greg Jewkes said he built fires and pulled rope that night.
Justin recalled when he was in the basket after reaching the top of the canyon and he was looking up into a sea of unfamiliar faces he saw the faces of his brother-in-laws, Mike and Dave looking at him. They had driven down to the rescue scene to offer support.
Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guymon said they have never called off a search and they stay with a job until it is done. He commended the search and rescue for doing a job and doing it right. He said two of the posse members went to the power company and borrowed some long ropes needed for the rescue. Sheriff Guymon said he ran into Layne Potter the next day after the rescue and told him they appreciated the work he did and Layne replied, ‘it wasn’t so bad.’ Most of the guys were beat after the rescue, but Layne went ice climbing the next day. “They are always there and ready to perform and do what we ask,” said Sheriff Guymon. Since the Harris rescue the search and rescue posse has acquired longer ropes to supplement their equipment.
Lamont Gordon said he went down into the canyon with Layne Potter. “Layne is an experienced rock and ice climber and had a plan of how to rescue Justin. I didn’t realize how long and narrow that canyon was. We had to turn the Stokes basket sideways and scoot it to get it out of there. It was exhausting work,” said Gordon.
McLayne Potter also aided in the rescue. He had been rock climbing with his dad the day the call came in and they were just headed back into town. They turned around and headed back to Chute Canyon. Potter recalled Justin having a large smile when they finally got to him. He was so happy to see somebody. Potter said it was cool to ride in the helicopter and hopes to do more of that.
Tricia said they think of the rescuers often and include them in their prayers. “The impact on me and my kids would of been huge, if Justin had not gotten out alive. We are so grateful you risked your lives to rescue Justin. Justin is an amazing person and we are so glad to see him when he walks in the door from work every day. We are so grateful to Jeremy for walking out to get help, he is an awesome man.”
Justin concluded the remarks this evening, “You are all heroes to me. Thanks to you guys, I am here today to raise my children. Words cannot express the depth of my feeling toward you and what you have done for me and my family. Thank you for what you do.”
The Harris family also collected money for the search and rescue posse in the county and presented it to Sheriff Guymon.

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